Obama Should Be ‘Bold’ in Jobs Speech, AFL-CIO’s Trumka Says

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said he’s optimistic President Barack Obama will propose a multitrillion-dollar job-creation program next week, while saying the president needs a “course” to improve his skills in negotiating with Republicans. Photographer: David Rogowski/Bloomberg

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said he wants President Barack Obama to propose a multitrillion-dollar job-creation program in his speech to Congress next week and that the president needs “another course” to boost his skills in negotiating with Republicans.

“I’m hoping that he’ll be very bold,” Trumka said on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “He’ll stand up for the American worker and say, ‘This is what needs to be done to fix the problem, and I’m going to fight for it.’”

Trumka, head of the largest U.S. union federation, has warned of waning enthusiasm for Obama from the labor movement, a critical part of his political base, ahead of next year’s re-election bid. Labor unions are disappointed in Obama’s tax-reduction agreement with Republicans last December that extended Bush-era cuts for even the richest Americans, and in continuing efforts to cut federal spending by $2.4 trillion amid the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

“I’d say he needs to take another course in bargaining to help out,” Trumka said in the interview.

Obama is to present his job creation plan in a Sept. 8 address to a joint meeting of Congress. The White House is considering more infrastructure spending, tax incentives to spur hiring, a cut in the employer portion of the payroll tax credit and changes to unemployment insurance to subsidize worker retraining, a person familiar with the discussions said earlier this week.

Payroll Tax

Obama has spent much of the year pressing a familiar set of proposals: renewal of a cut in the employee-paid portion of the payroll tax and extended unemployment benefits, both expiring Dec. 31, and ratification of free-trade deals.

Trumka said today he doesn’t think tax credits -- an idea favored by Republicans -- are enough to make a difference.

“American workers, whether they’re union or not union, are looking for leadership,” he said. “They don’t want excuses. They don’t want bipartisan crap.”

Labor wants aggressive spending on new infrastructure projects, Trumka said. “If you’re looking at $400 billion over a year for a number of years, that gets us in the ballpark,” he said.

The U.S. unemployment rate held at 9.1 percent in August, and the Office of Management and Budget said the jobless rate will average 9 percent next year.

‘Super PAC’

Labor enthusiasm is critical to Obama’s re-election bid, and Trumka said today that “some of the things he’s done have caused a dampening the spirit of the base.” Still, that might be offset by the new AFL-CIO “super PAC” that will spend money year-round to mobilize voting by union and non-union workers.

In addition, labor money and enthusiasm have poured into Wisconsin, Ohio and other states where Republican governors fought for laws that curb union rights. That kind of action “energized our base,” Trumka said.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, elected in November in a sweep of Republican gubernatorial victories, has led a push in states to curtail union rights and benefits as budget deficits widened. Trumka said in June he wanted to give Walker a “mobilizer of the year” award because anger at his anti-union agenda drew protests as large as 70,000 people to the state capitol.

The rift between the president and labor is wide enough that a dozen unions last month said they plan to boycott next year’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Labor is angry that the Democrats chose North Carolina, a state that lacks unionized hotels and has the lowest rate of unionized workers.

Trumka, who has served as a delegate in the past, said he isn’t sure if he will participate in the convention. “I haven’t made that decision yet,” he said.

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